28 February 2014

Brewer Vetoes Discrimination

By now, I'm sure you've heard the good news:  Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed legislation that would have allowed business owners, based on their religious beliefs, to refuse service to LGBT people.

Although she has made some terrible moves, such as passing a law that denies drivers' licenses and other public benefits to undocumented immigrants, she at least showed that she has, somewhere deep in her, a sense of justice.  In essence, she realized that signing SB 1062 would have given a lot of people lots of power to discriminate in all sorts of ways.  For example, a Muslim taxi driver in Tucson could refuse to pick up a woman who's traveling alone.

Plus, I think she's a sensible enough person to realize that, well, someone whom you think is gay or Muslim or whatever may, in fact, not be.  I know personally people about whom you would "never guess" their sexual orientation or religion, or even race or nationality.  (Not many people think, in looking at me, that most of my heritage is Italian---Sicilian at that!  And I know a black man who looks just about as white as I do.) Any business owner who discriminates on the basis of mistaken identity is practically setting him or her self up for a lawsuit.

Furthermore, she surely realized that signing SB 1062 would be bad for business in The Grand Canyon State.  The Hispanic National Bar Association had already announced that it cancelled plans to hold its annual convention--which around 2000 would have attended--in the state next year, in part as a response to the bill.  And the National Football League--not exactly known as a bastion of gay-rights advocacy--said it was exploring plans to move the Super Bowl, which is to be held in the state next year, to a different venue had Brewer signed the bill into law.

Finally, I think she may have had a personal motivation (i.e., guilt) for signing SB 1062.  In 2007, one of her sons died of cancer and HIV-related illnesses.  Various accounts say that she disowned him when he "came out" and, at the time of his death, hadn't spoken to him in years.  Perhaps she is doing in his memory what she didn't do for him during his life.  

26 February 2014

Mayor And City Council Boycotting St. Patrick's Day Parade

Yesterday, New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverto announced that the Council will not officially participate in this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade.  Individual council members are free to march on their own, or with other groups, but they cannot do so as Council representatives.

The reason? I'll let Ms. Mark-Viverto tell it in her own words:   "The St. Patrick’s Parade should be a time when all New Yorkers can come together and march openly as who they are—but right now that is not the case for the LGBT community."

In other words, she is protesting the fact that LGBT people and organizations are not allowed to participate.  This is a move even her openly-lesbian predecessor, Christine Quinn, did not make.  One reason for that, I believe, is that Quinn was first and foremost an ally of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who never would have boycotted the parade or encouraged anyone else to do so.  On the other hand, Mark-Viverto not only has her own convictions but the support of current Mayor Bill De Blasio, who is also boycotting the parade in sympathy.

Of course, those who oppose the boycott are using the reactionary tactic du jour:  Accusing those they are trying to exclude of being, well, exclusivist and bigoted.  It's best summed up in a statement from the Catholic League's Bill Donohue:  

"There is a growing contempt for tolerance and diversity in the homosexual community, and among their supporters, especially in New York... The protesters obviously loathe diversity: diversity means pluralism, a wholesale rejection of mandated, one-size-fits-all policies. What these activists want is the right to impose their agenda on Irish Catholics, neutering a day set aside to honor St. Patrick."

Excuse me...Who is trying to impose an "agenda" on whom? Who is trying to "neuter" what?  I know of no LGBT person who is trying to impose his or her "agenda", whatever it may be, on anyone else.  And, as someone who's marched in a few parades,  I don't see how a desire to participate in the St. Patrick's Day procession is an attempt to "neuter" a celebration.  

Say whatever else you will about De Blasio or Mark-Viverto, they actually seem to understand what diversity and inclusion are. Good for them! 

25 February 2014

Women, Bikes And Equality

Yesterday I wrote about a rather curious phenomenon:  the cities and countries with the strongest cycling cultures aren't necessarily the ones with weather and terrain most people believe are best for cycling.  As examples, I cited Boston, New York, San Francisco and Portland in the US and such European locales as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Last week, I wrote about the relationship between the two major bike booms (1890s-early 1900s and 1970s) and the women's rights movements of those periods.

From Brain Pickings

Perhaps it's serendipitous that I came across a United Nations Development Programme Report which ranked countries, among other things, in gender equality. Tell me whether you are surprised to see these countries in the Top 10 (as of 2012): 

1. Netherlands 
2. Sweden 
3. (tie) Denmark 
3. (tie) Switzerland 
5. Norway 
6. Finland 
7. Germany 
8. Slovenia 
9. France 

After seeing that, I did a bit of research. (OK, I spent a few minutes on Google.) I found a number of reports that rank Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Washington DC and Madison, Wisconsin among the best US cities for gender equality.

Is it a coincidence that the countries and cities in which cycling and cyclists are most mainstream are also the ones where a woman has the best chance to get a good education, paid what she's worth and the health care she needs?

Just askin'.

24 February 2014

Jason Collins, The First Openly Gay NBA Player

Last night, Jason Collins played eleven minutes for the Brooklyn Nets of the National Basketball Association in their game in Los Angeles, against the hometown Lakers. 

On the surface, this story is typical.   The NBA season is entering its late stages, and the Nets are trying to get into the playoffs. Teams in such a situation often sign veteran players like Collins, whom they value for their experience as well as their skills.

Most people who are not Nets’ fans would not have paid attention were it not for this:  In stepping onto the hardwood in Staples Center, Collins became the first openly gay player in any of the four most-watched men’s major sports leagues (the NBA, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and the National Football League) in North America.  While I am happy to see him play again, and the way other players have expressed their support for him, his signing got me to thinking.

For one thing, he is a respected veteran player who didn’t “come out” until last year, after more than a decade in the NBA.  What if he were a college player who’d just become eligible for the league’s draft?  Would any team take him if its coach and general manager—not to mention players—knew about his sexual orientation?

For that matter, would he have played in college?  Would any college from which he would have a realistic chance of playing in the NBA have offered him a scholarship to play?

Also, he played for the Nets just after the turn of the century, when they were still based in New Jersey.  They made it to the NBA Championship twice (losing both times) with Collins establishing himself as a disciplined, hard-nosed player.   One of his teammates—and the team’s star—was Jason Kidd, the Nets’ current coach. 

What if he hadn’t had those prior connections to the Nets’ organization?  Would they have brought him back, his skills notwithstanding?  Would another team that could be enhanced by his skills and experience, but doesn’t have a history with him, consider signing him?

In other words, I have to wonder whether a player can “come out” before embarking on a career and still, well, hope to have a career in his sport.  I also have to wonder whether I’ll live to see a professional transgender athlete.

One thing that gives me some hope is that there are many “out” female athletes.  Some, such as Billie Jean King, came out after their playing careers ended, while Martina Navratilova’s sexuality was public knowledge during her career, which began near the end of King’s.  And the Women’s National Basketball Association has had a reputation, among homophobes as well as the enlightened, as a haven for lesbians.

I’ve noticed that straight women tend not to be as troubled by other women who are lesbians as some men are by their gay bretheren.  And, on more than one issue, I’ve noticed that where women go, men follow.  Perhaps the Nets’ brass are at the front of that procession.

23 February 2014

Not Welcome In Arizona

What rights does--or doesn't--religion confer?

Nearly everyone (at least, everyone I know) thinks that no matter how you interpret Islam, it doesn't give you the right to hijack a plane and fly it into the side of a skyscraper.  And almost nobody in the Christian world thinks that the Inquision or the Crusades were positive developments.

Perhaps being refused service on the basis of your sexual orientation doesn't compare to such tragedies.  Still, I am guessing that almost any first-year law student or seminarian would tell you that if religion doesn't confer the right to commit murder, it also shouldn't allow discrimination.

Apparently, that's not how legislators in Arizona see it.  They've passed a bill that would allow businesses and other establishments to refuse service to LGBT people.  

So, for example, it would be perfectly legal for a baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay couple's wedding.  Or a photographer could decide he didn't want to record a same-sex ceremony.

The two examples I've cited have actually occurred in other states.  Now Governor Jan Brewer, on whose desk the bill sits, must decide whether she'll allow such things in her state. Given her record on civil rights issues, I'm not optimistic that she'll veto it.

22 February 2014

What Is Professor Regenerus Telling Us?

Whenever I teach literature, I have to explain the concept of irony.

Now, I am the sort of teacher (and person) who prefers to teach and define through examples, so I am always looking new and interesting ones.

I think I may have stumbled upon something:  A sociologist whose work has been used to bolster claims that same-sex couples can't be good parents may just have given me, and other women, reason to become lesbians.

Two years ago, Mark Regenerus of the University of Texas-Austin published his study about adult children(up to 39 years old) of lesbian and gay parents.  According to his findings, such children have higher rates of problems with their own relationships.  However, as he has taken pains to point out, his work cannot provide any conclusive evidence that same-sex couples make worse parents than heterosexual ones.  For one thing, the parents (some of whom are now dead) of those adult children most likely did not self-identify as gay or lesbian, as few parents would have done so until recently. Essentially, he classified any parent who had an extramarital sexual experience with a person of his or her own gender as gay or lesbian. He himself admits that this is, at best, a flawed way of identifying gay or lesbian parents.

If there is indeed any evidence that the children of such relationships have more problems, it probably has to do with the instability found in those parents' relationships. Even if the kid doesn't exactly know his or her mother or father is really doing when he or she is "working overtime" or "going out with the guys (or girls)", he or she can pick up on the tension engendered by sneaking around and  keeping it a secret--or of the fact that the spouse knows that the person he or she married is on the "down low."  The kid notices that the parents are fighting or not talking to each other, even if he or she doesn't know the reason why.

Regenerus himself acknowledges the flaws in his study and says that it cannot be used to draw any conclusions about the inferiority of gay or lesbian parents.  Of course, his warning has not stopped organizations like Focus on the Family or the editors of The National Review from doing exactly that.

Now Professor Regenerus (What a name, huh?) has published a new study in which he concludes that the "normalization of gay men's sexual behavior" will embolden straight men to demand, of their girlfriends and wives, the right to  "open relationships" (i.e., one in which they are allowed to stray) and anal sex.

Hmm...So let's see...Gay men are still sexually promiscuous, just like we thought they were in the 1970's.  They're going to give straight men ideas.  Hmm...Where does that leave us?

Now, if I ever get involved with a man again, I just might allow an open relationship, as long as he asks me nicely and  is honest with me. (Perhaps it's naive to think such a thing is possible. Oh well.)  But I don't know about the anal sex part.  It's not that I feel revulsion to the practice or even that I associate it with gay men, necessarily.  Let's just say it's not my preference, so I'm not sure of how I'd feel if a man started to demand it of me.

I was willing to give Professor Regenerus the benefit of the doubt on his earlier study (or, more precisely, doubt the reading comprehension skills of some who saw it).  But his study of the effects of the "normalization of gay men's sexual behavior" has me scratching my pretty little head.  Perhaps he can explain further.



21 February 2014

When You Can't See Liberty

Today's post hasn't much to do with gender or LGBT issues, perhaps.

But I thought I'd share two photos someone passed on to me.  They were taken today in lower Manhattan:

From here, you can't see the top of Liberty Tower, the building that replaced the twin towers of the World Trade Center.   

Here's another image that will give you an idea of how low the fog was today:

20 February 2014

To Old Age (Or, More Precisely, Getting There)

"Well, gays in San Francisco do not obey the dictates of good sense. [...] First, these men don't really see a reason to live past their fifties. They are not married, they have no children, and their lives are centered on new sexual partners. These conditions do not make one's older years the happiest. Second, because sex is the center of their lives, they want it to be as pleasurable as possible, which means unprotected sex. Third, they enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick."

Where did I find the above quote?  Well, all right, I found it on Wikipedia. (Shh...Don't tell anybody.) Actually, I remembered seeing it somewhere, but I couldn't recall where or when.

It came, not from the early days of the AIDS epidemic or any of the earlier Dark Ages. Rather, it's of recent vintage--twenty years old, to be exact.  It came from the 5 January 1994 Ron Paul Survival Report.

Now, I won't get into a discussion of Mr. Paul's fitness for public office, let alone the Presidency. But the quote that began this post reveals not only his, but a very common, perception about gay men--and, by extension, LBT people.

None other than Larry Kramer condemned the sexual habits of gay men during the '70's and '80's in language not much different from Ron Paul's.  The first gay men I knew (at least, the first who revealed their sexuality to me) were indeed more sexually active than anyone else I knew up to that time, or most people I've known since.  However, it was a time when many gay men--as well as lesbians--came "out of the closet."  And, like anyone who has been released from bondage, they wanted as much of the very thing they'd been denied.  Also, to be fair, almost no one had heard of what would come to be known as AIDS, let alone the ways it was transmitted.

Still, it's disturbing to read comments like the one from Ron Paul.  If anything has an impact on the life expectancy of LGBT people, it's homophobia.

At least, that's a conclusion of a new study.  When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: LGBT people in accepting communities live (on average, 12 years) longer than those in intolerant environment.  And, until recently, homophobia was everywhere.  In fact, people who abhorred racism and sexism held anti-LGBT attitudes, often unconsciously.  I was one such person.

Before the AIDS epidemic, one didn't see many older LGBT people. Of course, during the epidemic, many died young.  But those who survived are embarking upon old age, and many of us have a better chance of doing so than we might have in the old days. 

Still, even in the most tolerant of environments, we face the hazards of homophobia and the terrors of transphobia.  People are harassed, beaten and even murdered right here in New York for their actual or perceived sexuality or gender identity.  So, while more of us are becoming members of the AARP, there are still things that have just as much chance of claiming us.  And they can't be changed by medical science.  Rather, we have our best chance of living long, fulfilling lives as the human spirit grows and expands.


19 February 2014

Great Advice

A letter to "Dear Abby" reminded me of how much work still needs to be done:

Dear Abby: My husband and I relocated to Florida a little over a year ago and were quickly welcomed into our new neighbors’ social whirl. Two couples in the neighborhood are gay. While they are nice enough, my husband and I did not include them when it was our turn to host because we do not approve of their lifestyle choices. Since then, we have been excluded from neighborhood gatherings, and someone even suggested that we are bigots!
Abby, we moved here from a conservative community where people were pretty much the same. If people were “different,” they apparently kept it to themselves. While I understand the phrase “when in Rome,” I don’t feel we should have to compromise our values just to win the approval of our neighbors. But really, who is the true bigot here? Would you like to weigh in? — Unhappy In Tampa

At least "Abby"'s response shows that she gets it:  

Dear Unhappy: I sure would. The first thing I’d like to say is that regardless of what you were told in your previous community, a person’s sexual orientation isn’t a “lifestyle choice.” Gay people don’t choose to be gay; they are born that way. They can’t change being gay any more than you can change being heterosexual.
I find it interesting that you are unwilling to reciprocate the hospitality of people who welcomed you and opened their homes to you, and yet complain because you are receiving similar treatment.
From where I sit, you may have chosen the wrong place to live because it appears you would be happier in a less integrated neighborhood surrounded by people who think the way you do. But if you interact only with people like yourselves, you will have missed a chance for growth, which is what you have been offered here. Please don’t blow it.

Perhaps the most important part of her response is in the second paragraph.  She seems to understand that "what goes around comes around" and, more important, that people like the letter-writer don't realize just how much they are living by their sense of entitlement.  They want to be accepted and included but want the right not to accept or include people whose "lifestyle choices" they don't approve. 
If someone refused that letter-writer employment for which she is qualified or housing she can afford because she is female or because of her race, religion or cultural background, I imagine she'd be furious.  I also suspect she wouldn't have stood for not being allowed to marry the man who became her husband.  she'd be furious.  Yet she probably believes that  in fighting for the same rights straight people take for granted, in marriage as well as other areas, LGBT people are looking for "special treatment."
"Abby" is right:  If people don't like people who are different from themselves, they should find ways to live and work only among those who look, think and act like them.  But they would miss out on so much.

I feel sorry for people like that.  After all, I feel sorry for anyone who would want to deprive him- or her-self of my company! ;-) 


18 February 2014

I Bought It Anyway

Even though I have never, ever wanted what this ad promised, I bought the product. In fact, I bought it several times, for several bikes. 

17 February 2014

Was He? Does It Matter?

Here in the US, today is “Presidents’ Day”.  In my childhood and adolescence, schools were closed on the 12th of February to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s (but not Charles Darwin’s) birthday and on the 22nd for George Washington’s birth.  Some time when I was in college, I think, the two holidays were combined into a Monday observance.

I haven’t seen many attempts to psychoanalyze George Washington.  However, about a decade ago, it seemed fashionable (at least among actual and wannabe historians) to speculate on Lincoln’s sexual proclivities.  More than a few people who were trying to make names for themselves or simply to seem smart (to whom, I don’t want to know) claimed that Lincoln was gay.  They cited such evidence as the fact that he sometimes shared his bed with other men and that he seemed distant, even cold, toward his wife.

Now, I would not be upset if someone could prove once and for all that “Honest Abe” was indeed a homophile.  However, I also can’t say that the question of whether or not he was doesn’t occupy my mind.  For that matter, I don’t find myself thinking much at all about whether famous historical figures were straight, gay or whatever, unless it has some obvious bearing on their actions.

To be perfectly honest, I never could impute any sort of sexuality to Lincoln.  In every portrait I’ve seen of him—and the monument to him in Washington, DC—he simply seems too dour to experience any sort of passion or pleasure.  In fact, the time I saw his larger-than-life statue in the nation’s capital, all I could think was, “Shit, that guy was ugly!”  

About his sharing his bed:  It wasn’t uncommon in those days before central heating and such.  Even today, people of the same sex sometimes share a bed because they’re sharing the same space—for the same reasons people who aren’t romantically linked would share a space.  Also, if he was indeed cold or distant to his wife, I could easily understand it, having seen the portraits and read accounts of him.  His contemporaries noted that he often seemed sad and distant; he himself confessed to suffering bouts of depression. As someone who can honestly say she’s experienced her share of despair, I can attest to the difficulty of letting yourself get close to someone, or letting someone get close to you, when you’re trying to find your own self-worth.

The real point, though, is that trying to “prove” that some long-dead historical figure was gay or lesbian or straight makes the person trying to make the case—and the group into which the person is trying to fit said historical figure—seem less credible and overly concerned with the seemingly trivial.

If anything, I think it’s more important for LGBT people to figure out whether we can apply any of his methods or lessons to our own struggles. As to whether he would have supported same-sex marriage…well, he believed that people should be free and equal.  I’ll leave it at that.